OLD BRIDGE – A new community building is envisioned for the Laurence Harbor beach waterfront with exterior bathrooms for beachgoers.
“This is a bold project that we are undertaking … we’re committed,” Mayor Owen Henry said. “The existing community center building has served its purpose. It’s time for grand construction, something that the township hasn’t seen for a long time since the municipal library.”
Henry joined Township Engineer Nicole Shapiro to present plans for the community center at a Township Council meeting in April. Township Planner Veena Sawant is expected to appear before the Planning Board in June to request the area as an area in need of redevelopment.
“The building could be the kickoff, the catalyst of an entire redevelopment area,” Shapiro said, noting the redevelopment would be non-condemnation redevelopment. “We could set the tone for any redeveloper to come in and certainly build in this area.”
The current community center, which Shapiro described as “oddly shaped … almost like two octagons put together” was constructed in the late 1970s.
“The usage inside is quite limited because you have to take these two octagons and parcel them out into room types that are usable,” she said. “The interior and exterior were renovated in 2003. We found contract documents that supported some mechanical equipment that was added, some exterior landscaping, and parceled off [sections] of the interior for better use of the space.”
The current building is utilized quite often for summer camp, half-day programs, adult fitness, cooking classes as well as civic group and local sports meetings.
The building is also used as a staging area when there are events on the beach waterfront for emergency medical services, first aid, and police.
The proposed plans include demolishing the existing building and building upon it with a two-story, 4,500 square-foot, building with a total floor area of 9,000 square feet, a 1,319-square-foot second floor terrace and ground level outdoor plaza and amphitheater-like seating.
The proposed building will receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification; provide for existing, plus additional, programming due to the larger space; become a revenue generating event space; and serve as an emergency shelter during extreme weather conditions and warming/cooling center in time of need.
EI Associates, Cedar Knolls, Hanover, was awarded the request for proposal (RFP) to prepare a conceptual design. Shapiro said not only did EI Associates come in as the lower bidder, but they designed the township courtroom, Shapiro said.
A formed small steering committee drove the consultants to take advantage of the waterfront views and utilize the space, she said.
Exterior men’s and women’s bathrooms are proposed for the beachgoers.
“This can eliminate the [current] Porta Potty,” Shapiro said.
Officials allocated $100,000 in the capital budget for the design services for the proposed building, which is projected to cost around $5.1 million.
Current grant opportunities include fiscal year 2023 Appropriations Request for Community Project Funding Applications, which officials submitted to the offices of Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), state Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and state Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in April.
Henry and Shapiro said they are confident they will receive some funds for the project.
“We are moving forward regardless of if we get grants,” Henry said, noting the community center is not only for Laurence Harbor, but attractive for the whole town. “This building will happen. We will fund it if we have to.”
The next steps include preparing RFPs for professional architectural and engineering design services in order to prepare plans, specifications and cost estimates for the public bid.
Officials will also continue to research and apply for any additional grant opportunities.